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THE RICH FOOL – Luke 12:13-21

“Whoever has the most toys, wins.” Perhaps you too have heard this expression. Unfortunately, its sentiment is too often the prevailing worldview of our society. The acquisition of temporal wealth is the most prominent false god of our day, leading many away from the lasting treasure of the Gospel.

Covetousness and greed, however, are not new afflictions. Jesus addressed these same dangers with the people of His day. While Jesus was speaking to a crowd, a young man interrupted and asked Jesus to “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (verse13) This was likely a younger brother who wanted a larger portion than the law provided. Knowing his underlying problem, Jesus warned him and the crowd of covetousness, “for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things he possesses.” (verse 15) To illustrate His point, Jesus told perhaps His most straightforward parable, “The Rich Fool.”

The sole character of this parable is a rich man who was blessed with an abundant harvest. So plentiful was his produce that his current barns would not hold it. He decided to pull those barns down and replace them with bigger barns. With this newfound financial security, the man surmised that he could relax and prepare to “eat, drink, and be merry.” (verse 19) God rebuked him, however, and called him a fool, for that very night his earthly life would end—and then what would become of his fortune? The lesson to be learned from this parable is shared in the final verse: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (verse 21)

Was it the man’s successful harvest that made him a fool? How about his building project and preparation for the future? No, what made him foolish was focusing his life on pleasing only himself, and his trust that his riches would provide him security and happiness. Greed and the “easy life” had become his treasure, squeezing out God and a sanctified life of generosity towards others. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Have you heard of “sudden wealth syndrome”? It is a phenomenon that strikes many lottery winners. Ironically, instead of providing the lasting happiness they had hoped for, their sudden wealth only brings a variety of problems, including ruined relationships, greediness, and debt. Being wealthy in itself is not sinful, but earthly wealth often brings problems.

Lest we think only wealthy people can have mixed-up priorities, the propensity to trust in wealth can be seen at every socioeconomic level. There are sinfully stingy poor people, and people lacking daily necessities who wrongly believe that money will solve their problems. It is the condition of the heart wherein the problem lies. “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” (Psalm 62:10) Notice what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

Let us rather focus on serving Christ and our neighbors (Colossians 3:22-23), being cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7) of our “firstfruits” (Proverbs 3:9). Our greatest treasure has been won for us by our Savior, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

Joe Lau is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin